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Gustave Caillebotte - Street in Paris on a rainy day

by Alexandra Tuschka

That a rainy day is meant here, we quickly realize. Almost all the people in this painting are carrying one of those gray, interchangeable umbrellas. Sometimes they have found a place under it in pairs, like the couple in front, sometimes they are alone. These two are the only ones who come towards us. The woman has hooked up with the man, both look interested to the left. Now the man coming towards them has to dodge. He is still trying to keep the umbrellas from getting in each other's way. But possibly his elbow will still touch the pretty lady. The coachmen, on the other hand, have to make do with their top hats, which are in fashion at the moment, as we can see. In any case, almost all the people depicted here are dressed to kill in dark clothes and distinguish themselves as members of the upper middle class. Only a worker and a craftsman in the right background are exceptions. The ground shimmers, indicating that the rain has stopped for a while. A building with strong vanishing lines draws the eye into the depths of the picture. That we are in Paris at the "Place de Dublin" can only be recognized by those who can identify this corner. Clear clues are missing, so one can assume that Caillebotte wanted to capture Paris more in its flair than to make this corner identifiable. A green lantern separates the halves of the painting almost unnoticed. It replaces only with a lot of imagination a little natural green in the picture. No little flower or tree loosens up the asphalt desert. In the right part there is also a slightly offset vanishing point. Also, the two figures on the right slow down the view and thus contrast compositionally with the wide view on the other half of the picture. The painting can also be divided horizontally in the middle, so that it becomes clear how strongly this painting was composed through (which is also proven by numerous preliminary studies and sketches).

The painting has a size of 212.2 x 276 cm and thus lets the life-size figures run towards the viewer. Are we about to collide with them, too? The isolation of all the figures is emphasized by the lack of interaction (although the lady hooks up) and also the distances between the groups of figures. The dull red of the right wall of the house cannot replace missing cheerful color accents and so the overall impression remains just "gray", aptly expressing the mood of a dreary rainy day we have all known.

This is in many ways a significant work in the history of art. Although it does not seem "typically impressionistic," the capture of a casual moment, the capture of a rainy situation outside, the humor in the small scene on the right are all reinventions of the time. Capturing the mood of the light after and during a shower, on the other hand, is a common motif of the Impressionists. The cutting of the figures and the lack of historical or noble subject of the work were contrasts to the rigid teaching of the academies. Unlike his fellow painters, however, Caillebotte remained faithful to line and clear outlines. The proximity to photography is also evident in this work and is probably due to the influence of Caillebotte's brother Martial, who was an ambitious amateur photographer. This combination of novel elements with naturalistic depiction earned him great admiration at the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877.

Caillebotte also captures contemporary events here. The umbrella had just been invented, the fashion depicted corresponds to the fashionable style in Paris in 1877, and the clear lines of the streets are also the result of urban planning measures of the time. The medieval streets were rebuilt from 1853 under the direction of

Georges-Eugène Haussmann into spacious boulevards that still characterize the cityscape today. Instead of crowding together in small, winding alleys, passersby could stroll along generous and wide sidewalks. Thus, the work can be said to have captured the feeling of Paris at the end of the 19th century, snapshot-like, but before photography was capable of producing snapshots at all. Between 1875 and 1880, about 50 such Paris views were created. On the one hand, they show the beautiful architecture and fashion of the upper class, but on the other hand, they often show a certain isolation.

Gustave Caillebotte - Street in Paris on a rainy day

Oil on canvas, 1877, 212.2 x 276 cm, Art Institute, Chicago


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